This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 2011, 2014
Currently Streaming on Netflix? No (But if you have a bloated cable package like I do, I’m sure you can find both of them.)
Spoilers? No more than a trailer
Let’s just start by saying that it takes an awful lot to get me to watch ANYTHING with James Franco in it. If Franco was only a mediocre actor it would be one thing, but in addition to being a mediocre actor, he’s an awful poet who has gotten published in very serious places basically because he is famous and has money. And this makes me very ragey, because I am friends with a lot of very good poets who would like very much to have a book published by Graywolf and whose poetry is better by every artistic and empirical standard. And he has literally taken the spot of someone who depends on their art for their livelihood. Someone who depends on a book for their tenure. Yes, I know capitalism affects art every day. It is just so so sad to see it to this extent. (His. poems. are. really. really. bad.)
So that fact that I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes twice despite my middle-aged professor disgust and disappointment in James Franco, tells you how much I love this franchise. I was young in a time before cable. A time of four channels if you were lucky and certainly no Internet or your favorite movie on VHS, DVD or BluRay to watch over and over again. So, after school, there was a movie broadcasted five days a week on a channel out of Toledo, Ohio. (I grew up in Michigan but close to the Ohio border and the antenna picked up Toledo much better than Detroit.) I cannot remember the name of the feature—it was called something like That 4’oclock Show or The Big Show at 4:00 or whatever. The quality of their offerings movies varied greatly—sometimes they were Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, sometimes it was The Greatest Show on Earth but at least once a year or so, there was Planet of the Apes week which usually included Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. These all blur together in my mind a bit (note to self, rewatch all original Planet of the Apes movies). I was in elementary school when I could come home and watch TV—as I got older I had after school activities and/or a job. But I was ENTHRALLED by the talking apes and firmly on the humans’ side (of course).
When the franchise was rebooted in 2001 with Tim Burton directing, Mark Wahlberg playing an astronaut and Helena Bonham Carter playing a progressive ape, I had a five-year-old and two-year-old and I think I saw a picture of the movie in Entertainment Weekly. The only movies I saw in those days were kid-fare and whatever I could rent in my “free” time on VHS. (Many years later I watched the reboot and it was… okay.) But Rise of the Planet of the Apes (with James Franco *sigh*) is a pretty compelling movie AND it gets you to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which is AMAZING. The visual effects of Dawn are stunning, with the actors playing apes wearing motion capture suits, rather than the make-up and suits of the old Planet of the Apes and the 2001 reboot. The decision to use this technology results in the viewer being able to totally suspend their disbelief. The viewer isn’t at any level saying, “Wow, Helena Bonham Carter looks a little freaky in ape make-up.” I was awed by the seamlessness and realness of the action—not just CGI, but the actors WITH the technology.
The story of Dawn is also homage to the old movies, as well as those age-old questions–what is humanity? why is there war? Why can some people (and apes) forgive the wrongs done to them and forge new lives, and others hold on to those same wrongs, wanting only revenge and annihilation of the enemy that has done them wrong? The villain in Dawn is not only human beings and our guns, but also Koba, who has been experimented on repeatedly by human beings and wants them all enslaved or dead. Watching Koba fall from his loyalty to Caesar (the main protagonist, the chimp who was raised by James Franco’s character Will Rodman and his father, played by John Lithgow, in Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and give in to his hatred of humans is one of the most compelling and horrific parts of the movie. There is also an underlying parenting/psychology parable here as well—Caesar was loved by humans, making him capable of love and forgiveness. Koba was tortured by humans, sending him down the path of destruction and hate.
Even if you never enjoyed Charlton Heston screeching, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” I think you will like these two latest offerings. Dawn evidently did quite well at the box office, grossing almost $709 million worldwide. And the third installment in the trilogy will hit theaters in summer 2017. Catch up on the third installment’s prequels and see if you can figure out why “humans don’t like smart ape.”